Condoms (internal)

External (male) and internal (female) condoms are barrier methods of contraception. They stop sperm meeting an egg.

An internal condom is made of polyurethane (soft plastic) or nitrile polymer (synthetic rubber). It's put in the vagina and loosely lines it.

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female condom

Effectiveness: Internal condoms are most effective when used perfectly. They’re 95% effective at preventing pregnancy with perfect use and 79% effective with typical use.

Remember before sex: Use a new condom each time you have sex. You can insert in advance if you want to.

Periods: Condoms won’t alter your periods.

STI protection: Yes. External condoms and internal condoms are the only methods of contraception that help protect you from STIs.

Hormones: No hormones.

How effective any contraceptive is depends on how old you are, how often you have sex and whether you follow the instructions.

If 100 sexually active women don’t use any contraception, 80 to 90 will become pregnant in a year.

Perfect use: If internal condoms are always used according to instructions they're 95% effective. This means that 5 women in 100 will get pregnant in 1 year.

Typical use: If internal condoms are not always used according to instructions, about 21 in 100 women will get pregnant in 1 year.

Sperm can get into the vagina during sex, even if you use a condom. This may happen if:

  • the penis touches the area around the vagina before a condom is put on (pre-ejaculation fluid, which leaks out of the penis before ejaculation, may contain sperm)
  • the condom splits
  • you use the wrong type or size of condom
  • you don’t use the condom correctly
  • the condom gets pushed into the vagina
  • the penis enters the vagina outside the internal condom by mistake
  • the condom gets damaged, for example by sharp fingernails or jewellery
  • you use too much or too little lubricant
  • you use oil-based products (such as body lotions) with latex or polyisoprene condoms. These damage the condom.

If any of these happen, or if you've had sex without using contraception, you can get advice about emergency contraception.

Internal condoms are suitable for most people.

They may not be suitable if you don't feel comfortable touching the genital area to insert them.

  • You only need to use them when you have sex.
  • They help to protect both partners from some sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
  • There are no serious side-effects from using condoms.
  • An internal condom can be put in any time before sex.
  • When using an internal condom, you need to make sure the penis is in the condom and not between the condom and vagina and that the open end of the condom stays outside the vagina.
  • Internal condoms can slip out or get pushed into the vagina.

I’ve just had a baby, can I use condoms?

You can use condoms immediately after you've had a baby – using an additional lubricant can help to make sex more comfortable.

Can I use condoms after a miscarriage or abortion?

You can use condoms immediately after having a miscarriage or abortion.

Internal condoms are free from contraception and sexual health clinics and young people’s services, and some general practices and genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics.

You can buy them from a pharmacy, by mail order or online as well as from vending machines, supermarkets, garages and other shops.

When should I use lubrication with a condom?

Internal condoms come ready lubricated to make them easier to use. Some people also like to use additional lubrication.

Any lubricant can be used with internal condoms as they are made of polyurethane or nitrile. This includes body oils, creams, lotions or petroleum jelly.

If you're using medication in the genital area, for example, creams, suppositories or pessaries, you can still use internal condoms.

Do I need to use spermicide?

No. If used correctly, condoms are an effective method of contraception and you do not need additional spermicide – a chemical that kills sperm.

Which condoms are best for oral sex?

Any condoms can be used for oral sex. However, flavoured condoms are a good option because they’re not lubricated and come in a range of flavours to suit most people’s tastes.

Can sperm travel through pores in the condom?

No. Neither latex nor polyurethane condoms have pores.

How are condoms tested to make sure they'll work?

Condoms go through several different tests to check:

  • they are free from holes
  • the strength and stretch of the latex
  • the air pressure needed to burst one
  • the safety of the packaging.

Going on holiday?

It's always a good idea to pack condoms – even if it’s ‘just in case’.

If you're going abroad, take your favourite brand from the UK. That way you won’t have to rely on a local brand which could be packaged in a foreign language or which may not have been produced to the same standards.

Where should I keep condoms?

Always keep packets of condoms and individual condoms where they can't be damaged by strong heat, sharp objects, light or damp.

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This website can only give you general information about contraception. The information is based on evidence-guided research from the World Health Organization and The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. All methods of contraception come with a Patient Information Leaflet which provides detailed information about the method.

Remember – contact your doctor, practice nurse or a contraception clinic if you're worried or unsure about anything.